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Local transit program running on empty

TriCountyCommAction

Tri County board to operate TLC two more weeks

Logan County’s rural transportation program narrowly escaped being closed today after members of the Tri County Community Action Commission board placed an 11th-hour telephone call to the Ohio Department of Transportation during a special meeting Thursday.

The board currently has no money on hand to pay drivers or buy fuel for the Transportation Logan County buses it operates and ODOT has been reluctant to provide funding after learning of years of financial mismanagement that has been coming to light in the past two months.

The operation has a weekly fuel cost of about $1,300 and biweekly payroll and benefits of about $10,400, bringing the total cost to operate two weeks to about $13,000, employee Kelly Predmore told the board.

Although it is designed to serve Champaign, Logan and Shelby counties, Tri County only provides transportation services in Logan County. It has already lost control of all other programs in the three counties except the responsibility of overseeing a senior housing development in Sidney.

Board President Al Evans was prepared to call for a vote to lay off the agency’s remaining employees and cease transportation services in Logan County before making a last-minute call to ODOT.

He said afterward that his impression was that ODOT may help fund the service to avoid interruption until a June 5 deadline, and the board took no action on his recommendation to terminate the service.

But he told Logan County Commissioner John Bayliss, who is also a Tri County board member, that the commissioners must act quickly to get a new plan in place or services will be interrupted.

“We can pay our people for the next two weeks, but I urge the commissioners to ramp up their decision so they can have their feet on the ground and running,” Mr. Evans said.

To keep transportation services uninterrupted after the two-week window expires, Logan County Commissioners must designate a new entity as the recipient of the ODOT rural transportation grant and that agency must have buses and drivers in place that meet ODOT requirements.

Local agencies, including RTC, have said they may be willing to attempt to meet these criteria to take over local transportation.

Some or all of the current drivers could apply for and potentially be hired to drive for the new agency, consultant Julie Schafer of RLS and Associates said.

It is unclear, however, if a different agency would be able to use either the buses owned by Tri County or the federally-funded transportation facility that was just opened last year at 315 W. Auburn Ave. to continue to provide local transportation services, Ms. Schafer said.

ODOT has liens on the buses and will repossess them if Tri County ceases to provide transportation services. It is uncertain how efficiently the transfer to a new agency might happen.

The building is mired in legal issues after former Tri County director, Denise Birt, who was placed on unpaid administrative leave in March, took out a $275,000 mortgage through Liberty National Bank just before a restriction was placed on the deed, Mr. Evans revealed at the meeting.

That property now could be called into foreclosure as the Tri County board has no significant source of income.

The board voted Thursday to pay a $6,000 retainer fee to attorney Ira Thompson to represent the agency in the legal cases that are starting to form as a result of the financial mismanagement.

Mr. Evans also told board members to be prepared for another shock as a new audit by the Ohio Development Services Agency, which previously provided financial support for the bulk of the Tri County’s programs, shows that the agency owes an additional $125,000 on top of $125,000 it already owes for improper use of grant funds.

 

Read complete story in Friday's Examiner.
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